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Opinion Young Travellers experiencing domestic violence can feel extremely isolated

Relationships between minorities and the police can involve fear and mistrust – creating additional obstacles for women seeking to leave a violent situation.

IT SHOULDN’T BE a shock that violence against women remains a serious human rights violation. In the majority of cases, women experience domestic violence for the first time before they turn 25.

Some 48% of women in Ireland have experienced sexual harassment since the age of 15, and 27% of women have experienced physical, sexual or psychological violence before the age of 15. Since 1996, 78 women have been murdered by their partner or former partner, while 10 children have suffered the same fate as their mothers.

The 25th November marked the beginning of 16 Days of Action, an international campaign to combat violence against girls and women. Women from all walks of life can experience violence, but there are particular responses in addressing the issue that could be more culturally appropriate and effective for women from minority ethnic communities, including Irish Travellers and Roma.

Violence against women is not inherent in minority ethnic cultures, nor is there any evidence that it is more prevalent. However, relationships between minorities and police and statutory services can be based on fear, and literacy or language barriers provide additional obstacles to women from minority backgrounds seeking to leave a violent situation. With less knowledge about their rights, less access to the legal system and a fear of abandoning the social support of their families, these women may feel particularly isolated.

To tie in with the 16 Days of Action Campaign, Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre is running a campaign to combat violence affecting young women and girls, developed with a group of young Travellers and Roma to help us challenge attitudes and stereotypes, as well as raise awareness in our own communities.

Little understanding about domestic and sexual violence

There is very little understanding about different forms of violence among young people. Domestic and sexual violence are rarely talked about in schools and there is very little education around healthy relationships and what constitutes abuse. Young women are particularly affected by ‘new’ forms of violence where technology can be used to control, stalk and sexually harass.

Our campaign has a social media focus and will draw attention to issues around revenge porn, online dating, social networking channels and the dangers of Snapchat for young women and men.

Our goal is to promote healthy relationships and mutual respect between men and women. We need to challenge gender norms and the behaviours that underpin violence against women. Targeting the behaviours and abuses of power and control are necessary – but violence against women is an issue that needs to engage men and women to challenge unhealthy notions of masculinity and femininity, breaking harmful stereotypes about gender.

We clearly need to raise awareness about this among young women and make sure they are aware of different forms of abuse and where to seek help: early prevention is key.

Isolation among young Travellers

While violence against women and healthy relationships are topics that affect all young people, young Travellers may have lower levels of awareness due to persistent levels of marginalisation and exclusion in the Irish society. We are discriminated against at every turn – whether people believe that or not. That discrimination creates isolation and pushes those desperately in need of help further into the background.

The presumption that anger issues or addiction cause domestic and sexual violence is a dangerous one. It minimises the severity of the problem and fails to address the root causes of violence against women – inequality and abuse of power and control. Unhealthy images of masculinity and femininity continue to have a strong hold of our social imagery. Images which normalise or even romanticise abuse and violence against women send a distorted message to young women and men and perpetuates violence against women. This needs to change: we need to start engaging with children and young people about healthy relationships, mutual respect and equality.

The ‘Expect Respect!’ campaign aims to prevent violence against young women by creating awareness about domestic and sexual violence among young people. Many young people think that you can only experience violence at home if you are married or in a relationship. But in fact you can experience violence whether you are single, married, in a same-sex relationship and when you’re pregnant. It has a devastating impact on children.

We want to teach young people to expect respect – nothing less.


Rebecca McDonagh is a member of the Traveller community and a Trainee Violence Against Women worker in Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre.
You can follow the campaign on Pavee Point’s Facebook page and on @PaveePoint.

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